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Reviewed by:
  • Treasure Islands: Studies in Children’s Literature
  • Margaret Mackey (bio)
Treasure Islands: Studies in Children’s Literature. Edited by Mary Shine Thompson and Celia Keenan. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2006.

This book contains twenty essays, plus a preface and an introduction, on the role and significance of islands in children's literature. The essays offer a variety of perspectives on this motif, looking at both historical and contemporary fiction. About half of the chapters focus on Irish and/or Celtic literature, but the book also ranges as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. As befits a book with this title, there are studies of the work of Robert Louis Stephenson and of his most famous piratical heirs: J. M. Barrie and Arthur Ransome. Enid Blyton, another writer with a large "island" opus, features in four chapters, and the notion of children's literature is broad enough to include a piece on two children's films.

The idea of "island" offers a rich vein for children's adventures, and the list of books analyzed or mentioned in this book would comprise a respectable tally of candidates for the accolade of most successful and beloved children's books in English. From Treasure Island to The Coral Island to The Tempest to Swallows and Amazons to The Island of Adventure, the island offers a space where adventures can begin and children can take charge of their own maturing.

For me (and I suspect it will be the same for many North American readers), the chapters in this collection on a broad range of Irish material opened my eyes to a literature about which I know very little. Like many other countries where speaking the English language made it easy to import children's books, Ireland has only recently begun to develop a flourishing literature of its own for its young people. This volume of essays is the second publication from the Irish Society for the Study of Children's Literature (ISSCL), and the editors tell us that its predecessor (Studies in Children's Literature, 1500–2000, Dublin: Four Courts, 2004) was "the first academic volume devoted to the study of children's literature to be published in Ireland" (9).

However, the recent burgeoning of publication and academic exploration does not mean that Irish children's literature has no historical roots. Irish history is the stuff of legend and also the stuff of religious and nationalistic fervor. Several intriguing essays in this book address popular Irish literature from the past. Marnie Hay investigates Irish nationalist propaganda aimed at children and youth between 1910 and 1916, a tumultuous period in Ireland. Michael Flanagan presents a fascinating study of the role of the Irish Christian [End Page 302] Brothers in producing Our Boys, a magazine designed to counter British imperialist publications with material steeped in Catholic and nationalistic ideology. Maire Ui Mhaicin explores a number of modern retellings of Celtic myths.

In contrast, Patricia Kennon, A. J. Piesse, Nancy Watson, and Breege O'Brien contribute discussions of more contemporary Irish literature for children, with particular emphasis on the works of Siobhan Parkinson and Eilís Dillon (this book is dedicated to the memory of the latter). Parkinson herself and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Cormac O Cuilleanain, the daughter and son of Eilís Dillon, also contribute separate chapters. Parkinson offers an interesting discussion of utopias ranging from Blyton's Secret Island to The Tempest. Ní Chuilleanáin discusses her mother's views on wildness and tameness with an interesting side commentary on Harry Potter; and O Cuilleanain provides further biographical insight into his mother's life and writing priorities.

In addition to these Irish-centered contributions, the book offers other island studies. Kate Hebblethwaite takes a historical look at another great tradition of island stories, the Robinsonnade, and talks about the contrast between the island that is "civilized" by the invader and the island that triumphs in its wildness (she puts Treasure Island in the latter category). Anna Bogen talks about "the island come true" in Peter Pan and Swallows and Amazons. Clive Barnes looks at changes in the idea of the island in mid-twentieth-century British and American literature...


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